The Park District of Highland Park has provided generations of residents with cherished memories of first teams, first friends, and first jobs. The parks are places to gather with friends and family, spaces to celebrate life’s special moments, spots of respite and healing, sites that connect us with essential community services, and so much more.

For Parks and Recreation Month, we are reaching out to our residents to share their cherished memories and stories about what the Park District means to them. 

If you have a favorite Park Story you would like to share, please email

Here are just a few of their stories…

“In the summer of 1975, I was working as a lifeguard at Rosewood Beach. I had to stop by my manager’s office, where I saw a very attractive college girl being interviewed. She was hired to work as a cashier at Rosewood.  It took me the entire summer to work up the courage to ask her out on a date. We have now been married for over 43 years.”

Todd Keil

“I was awarded part-time seasonal employee by the Park District on two occasions during my camp counselor years. It is one of the greatest honors to this day because I was SO happy in my youth there and was happy to give back to other kids. From ballet classes as a 4-5-year-old with Mrs. Ettlinger to working the Rec Center desk with Gilda and Marsha Schramm in college, I really never left but for a few tennis camp summers up at Ripon College. A delicious memory is the nature guy Marc Bard’s “Sunset Stew,” that we all made, ate and loved. I think the recipe is still in my mom’s tin holder in my cabinet.”

Barbara Meldman Rosenberg

“I attended Sunset Park Day Camp and played Little League and Pony League baseball at Sunset Park through the summers of 1964-1970. I worked for the Park District from 1974-1981. As a coach, the privilege and opportunity of sharing baseball knowledge and life lessons I had learned to young men between the ages of 10-13, all flavored with the spirit of having fun and embracing the enjoyment of the game, made the opportunity of coaching Park District Little League baseball rewarding and unforgettable. To Chuck Schramm, Bruno Sommenzi and Tommy Inman, I am forever grateful for life lessons learned.  Not to be forgotten are coaches Mike McKillip and Bruce Frichie for their unforgettable roles as well.”

Neal Swire

“I fondly remember those yellow and blue t-shirts from Sunset Day Camp.  I loved the Sloppy Joe’s that were served on special occasions. When I was a teenager, I taught tennis at Centennial Park and Red Oak school. I rode my bicycle with baskets filled with tennis balls. Nothing was as much fun as going downhill on Half Day Road. Going home was another story, but I didn’t care. I loved teaching tennis. As an adult, I volunteered clearing buckthorn and collecting seeds under the supervision of Rebecca Grill, director of Natural Areas. In 2012, she helped me get a summer job with the maintenance crew under the direction of Ted Baker. I loved driving old truck number 60 and its big water tank as I commuted from park to park taking care of the annual beds. I was between corporate jobs at the time and the work was very satisfying for so many reasons.”

Karen M. Finerman

“I played in the Park District Little Leagues ‘till I was 10.  Then it was the pool all the time. Lots of laps at Twin Pools. As a 19-year-old, I umpired the men’s’ 16” softball league every Tuesday and Thursday night at West Ridge Park. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very well received by the “men” who played. They didn’t like a 19-year-old making the decisions, I guess.”

Marty Zimmerman

“….Honestly, I figured I’d have a couple things to say, but as I thought more and more about how much time I spent at the Rec Center and Sunset Park, I realized how much the Park District did for me.  And at this moment, having already written over 1700 words, I am realizing that I haven’t even touched on the Twin Pools, the beaches, ice-skating lessons and free skate at Sunset Park.  WOW!”

Julie Neff Encinas

Since 1985, America has celebrated July as the nation’s official Park and Recreation Month. Created by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), Park and Recreation Month specifically highlights the essential and powerful role that local park and recreation agencies and their professionals – play in building stronger, more vibrant, and resilient communities across the country.

For 113 years, the Park District of Highland Park has been an integral part of this vibrant community providing connections to open space and recreational programs, promoting health and wellness, and improving our residents’ physical, emotional, and mental health.  

Today, the Park District manages over 800 acres of parkland and natural areas. According to NRPA, 260 million people in the United States visited a local park or recreation facility at least once during the past year. More than seven in 10 U.S. residents have at least one local park, playground, open space, or recreation center within walking distance of their homes. In Highland Park, 90% of our residents are within a ten-minute walk to one of our 45 parks – a benefit that only a small percentage of communities in the United States can tout.

Living close to parks and other recreation facilities is consistently related to higher physical activity levels for adults and youth. Moreover, parks provide a connection to nature, which studies demonstrate relieves stress, strengthens interpersonal relationships, and improves mental health. In the U.S., 93% of adults say their mental health is improved by services offered by local park and recreation agencies. The Park District of Highland Park provides over 3,000 adult and youth programs annually, including art, athletics, gymnastics, swimming, dance, childhood enrichment, fitness, golf, ice skating, nature programs, pickleball, tennis, and more.

Park Districts also continuously create job opportunities for full-time, part-time, and seasonal positions. This summer, the Park District of Highland Park has employed over 287 young adults and teens in important positions for the community and as a jumping-off point for their careers.   

This July, we are bringing attention to how important it is to rise up and support the field of parks and recreation because every day, park and recreation professionals rise up for their communities in service of equity, climate-readiness, and overall health and well-being.

Before heading out to your favorite Park District of Highland Park facility on 4th of July weekend, check out our hours!

FacilitySaturday, July 2Sunday, July 3Monday, July 4
Centennial Ice ArenaClosedClosedClosed
Deer Creek Racquet Club8am-noon8am-noonClosed, No Classes
Heller Nature Center9am-3pm; Trails Open 7:30am to DuskBuilding Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to DuskBuilding Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to Dusk
Hidden Creek AquaParkLap Swim - 5:30am-10am; Open Swim - 10am-7pmLap Swim - 5:30am-10am; Open Swim - 10am-7pmLap Swim - 5:30am-10am; Open Swim - 10am-7pm
Highland Park Golf Learning Center8am-7pm8am-7pm8am-5pm
Recreation Center of Highland Park7am-4pm7am-4pm7am-12pm
River's Edge Mini Golf8am-7pm8am-7pm8am-5pm
Rosewood Beach10am-6pm10am-6pm10am-6pm
Sunset Valley Golf Club6am-8pm (weather permitting)6am-8pm (weather permitting)6am-8pm (weather permitting)
West Ridge CenterClosedClosedClosed

Join Us for Highland Park’s 4th of July Celebration!

Downtown Highland Park

Downtown Highland Park

Sunset Woods Park

Wolters Field

The playground is full of color with the installation of the pour in place rubber surfacing currently underway. Construction crews continue wrapping up the playground equipment installation. The equipment is nearly 100% complete with a few minor pieces remaining for the rocket ship and the wavy net climber. Also this week, crews will be pouring concrete at the playground entry points and installing site furniture and landscaping. Inspections are scheduled and the team expects the playground to be open by July 13.

Why are the new playgrounds not open?

We are all disappointed that the new playgrounds are not yet open. Our crews have been working hard to keep the project moving, but unforeseen challenges and setbacks have impacted the overall schedule.

Keep Your Dog On-Leash 

It may be tempting to let your dog run off-leash on the beautiful new lawns at The Preserve of Highland Park.  Though The Preserve may look like a traditional park with its paved trails and mowed lawns, it is a natural area and home to hundreds of wild birds and animals.   To make sure our new park is fun and safe for everyone, we require that dogs always be kept on a leash.

There is evidence that dogs off-leash can be detrimental to wildlife.  Most birds and other wildlife perceive dogs as predators. Impacts include: 

  1. Displacement – The presence of dogs causes wildlife to move away, temporarily, or permanently reducing the amount of available habitat in which to feed, breed and rest. Animals become less active during the day to avoid dog interactions. Furthermore, the scent of dogs repels wildlife, and the effects remain after the dogs are gone. 
  2. Disturbance – Animals are alarmed and cease their routine activities. This increases the amount of energy they use, while simultaneously reducing their opportunities to feed. Repeated stress causes long-term impacts on wildlife including reduced reproduction and growth, suppressed immune system and increased vulnerability to disease and parasites.

It is against City law and Park District ordinance to have a dog off-leash in any of our parks, except in designated areas. Dogs off-leash are not in your control. They may:

There are several options for off-leash fun in the community. The Park District of Highland Park has two dog parks available to registered members:

Debbie Gottlieb Beitler Dog Park at Larry Fink Memorial Park – open year-round (701 Deer Creek Parkway)
A relaxed park-like atmosphere with two off-leash exercise areas, depending on the size of your dog.

Highland Park Golf Learning Center– open mid-December through mid-March* (2205 Skokie Valley Highway)
A large outdoor venue for your dog to run off some of that cabin fever energy.

There is much to enjoy and explore in the Park District of Highland Park’s newest open space: The Preserve of Highland Park.  One of its most notable features is located off-the-beaten paths. The Turtle Meadow was created as a landward retreat for some important semi-aquatic creatures who live on the property. Jokes Rebecca Grill, the Park District’s natural areas manager, “If we build it, will turtles come?”

Three species of turtles have so far been identified on the property. Painted turtles have been seen sitting atop logs in the north pond with box turtles on the nearby shoreline. Large snapping turtles have been spotted making their stately way along the river side path.

These sightings inspired community members and staff during the planning process for The Preserve that began in 2019. “We wanted to honor the environment by creating specialized habitat for this new park and its creatures,” Grill said. Turning former sand bunkers into turtle nesting habitat was one creative way to accomplish this.

When we talk about Illinois, we don’t generally talk about turtles, but there are 17 species of these ancient creatures living in the state. Grill says that six are on the endangered species list due to habitat loss. “We’re just trying to do our part in the effort to protect the turtles. We knew these creatures existed here; how could we help them?”

Research into creating an ideal nesting habitat for the turtles found that turtles need sandy soil in an unshaded, wide-open area. “Fortuitously, we have 48 sand bunkers on the property from its previous incarnation as a golf course,” notes Grill. “We re-purposed some of them to create the habitat.”

The Turtle Meadow was placed at the Preserve’s north end, designated as a more quiet and protected area. A turtle-themed Sand Play Area was installed closer to The Preserve’s entrance off Park Avenue to engage children with two turtle shell-shaped climbing mounds and a sand area where children can dig for turtle fossils.

Instrumental in bringing Turtle Meadow to fruition, Grill says, was Shayna Zavell, a junior at Highland Park High School, whose family has been avid supporters of the Park District. “My family has been volunteering for the Park District for as long as I can remember,” Zavell says. “Both my brothers were Eagle Scouts, so they did projects with Rebecca. I reached out to her to ask if there were any projects I could contribute to because I am interested in conservation. So, she told me about the turtle project.”

Zavell undertook research into what the turtles would need in their newly created habitat. She also helped with the informational signage at Turtle Meadow and the Sand Play Area and measures—encircling the areas where the turtles lay eggs with mesh—to help protect turtle eggs from predators, including raccoons and coyotes. “The goal is to increase turtle populations,” she says.

Zavell hopes The Turtle Meadow and the Sand Play Area will raise community awareness. “I don’t think most people know there are even turtles in Highland Park,” she said. “It’s important we help these fascinating species.”

For more information or to volunteer to help monitor the turtles, email Rebecca Grill at or call the Park District at (847) 831-3810.

The Preserve of Highland Park is located at 1207 Park Ave West.  Conversion of the site from its historical use as a golf course began in November 2020 and officially opened to the public in June 2022.   Today, The Preserve of Highland Park celebrates nature and our place in it. The unique 100+ acre property was designed to take advantage of the interesting golf-related topography and includes green lawns, nature-based play areas, specialized native gardens, restored woodlands, and walking and biking trails that connect neighborhoods and downtown Highland Park, and regional biking trails. Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play.

Virtually every community has a leash law. In Highland Park, the law requires that dogs be kept on a leash on public property, including our parks. The law intends to protect the health and safety of the public and to protect your pet. A leash is commonly referred to as “Your Pet’s Lifeline” and protects your pet from harm and potentially harming other people or animals in the area. While you can train certain dogs to avoid the busy roads, stop and wait for their owner at corners, and even return to their side at command, there is always the chance that a dog could act impulsively. The safest way and legal way to walk your dog is on a leash.

Other Reasons to Always Use a Dog Leash

Become a Dog Park Member!

Dog Park Membership offers countless benefits for your dog. One of the most important benefits a dog park provides a dog is to exercise both his body and mind. In an open off-leash space, your dog has the chance to run around freely, chasing after balls and other dogs as much as his heart desires. He can socialize with humans and other dogs, which helps maintain healthy social skills. Like people, dogs are social creatures, and they enjoy being around their own kind. Your dog can practice his communication skills with other dogs and gives him practice reading other dogs. Practicing and mastering these skills helps your dog from developing fear or aggression problems around other dogs. This is especially true if you have a young dog that is eager to learn. And, not only is it fun for your four-legged friend, but it’s also fun for you! You can run around and exercise with your dog, practice off-leash training, talk to and bond with other dog owners, and enjoy the time watching your dog have the time of his life.

The Park District of Highland Park has two dog parks available to registered members:

Debbie Gottlieb Beitler Dog Park at Larry Fink Memorial Park – open year-round (701 Deer Creek Parkway)
A relaxed park-like atmosphere with two off-leash exercise areas, depending on the size of your dog.

Highland Park Golf Learning Center– open mid-December through mid-March* (2205 Skokie Valley Highway)
A large outdoor venue for your dog to run off some of that cabin fever energy.

Be a Pooper Scooper!

Anyone who’s a dog owner has been there. You’ve been playing fetch with your dog for the last half hour, and just when it’s time to start walking back home, he crouches down and leaves a big pile. And then comes the dreaded moment when you know that it’s time to clean up. But wouldn’t it be so much easier to just leave the mess? No one will know it was you…

But if you care about your health, your dog’s health and your community, it’s imperative that you clean up after your dog. Here’s why:

We all get tired and sluggish, and doggie droppings are quite unpleasant – so we don’t blame you for not wanting to pick up after your dog. Because we care about you, your dog and our environment, we put together a list of tips to help make clean-up time a little bit easier:

Be a Dog Park Member!

The best option to give you and your dog safe exercise is to become a member of our dog parks. Membership to a dog park is a wonderful way for you and your dog to play and socialize freely in a safe environment with other dogs and owners. In Highland Park, the Debbie Gottlieb Dog Park (year round) and Highland Park Golf Learning Center Dog Park (mid-Dec – mid-March) feature two off-leash exercise areas – one for big dogs and one for small dogs.  Our dog parks are available to registered dog park members.  Learn more and become a member.

We invite all residents to celebrate Family Health & Fitness Day, and discover we are building a strong, healthy and resilient community through the power of parks and recreation. To celebrate, simply gather with family and friends to get active at any Park District park, beach or facility.

Community members can participate by doing the following: 

The Park District of Highland Park offers year-round opportunities for families and individuals to stay active and healthy. In fact, Living close to parks and other recreation infrastructure is consistently related to higher physical activity levels for both adults and youth. Moreover, parks provide a connection to nature, which studies demonstrate relieves stress, tightens interpersonal relationships, and improves mental health.  

This past week our community celebrated the opening of The Preserve of Highland Park. Festivities kicked off on Thursday June 2 at an event recognizing key partners in the project including the construction teams, Resident Advisory Committee, the City of Highland Park, Lake County, and the State of Illinois. Park Board President Terry Grossberg hosted the ceremony. Among those in attendance were Illinois Senator of the 29th District, Julie Morrison; Illinois Representative of the 58th District, Bob Morgan; and City of Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering along with members of the Park District of Highland Park Board of Commissioners, Parks Foundation of Highland Park Board members, and City Council members.

The public grand opening event took place on Saturday, June 4. Over 200 residents enjoyed a day exploring the natural world around the ponds and at the turtle meadow, new nature maze, pollinator garden, and sand play area.

The Preserve of Highland Park is a unique 100+ acre property comprised of green lawns, nature-based play areas, specialized native gardens, restored woodlands, and walking and biking trails that connect neighborhoods, downtown Highland Park, and regional biking trails.  Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play. The property provides enhanced habitat for several native species including turtles, pollinators, and over 110 species of birds.

Interpretive, interactive signage and ongoing public programming opportunities will allow visitors to learn about important conservation efforts. The Preserve will host summer camp visits, nature educational programs, fitness classes, and special events. The Recreation Center of Highland Park, The Highland Park Senior Center, and the Highland Park Golf Learning Center/Rivers Edge Adventure Golf are steps from the outdoor spaces and trails of The Preserve.

The Preserve is also designed to take advantage of manufactured and natural features to help with local flood relief – including added capacity for flood storage, conversion of 50+ acres of turfgrass into native plantings that absorb and cleanse stormwater, and restoration of more than 2,500 linear feet of pond shoreline providing large-scale water quality benefits in the highly developed Skokie River watershed.